Lebanese expats launch fundraising drive to ‘rebuild Beirut with Pride’ after devastating blast wiped out city’s queer scene

LGBT+ response Beirut explosion

A group of LGBT+ Lebanese expats and their allies are leading a fundraising drive after the horrific Beirut blast, which destroyed the city’s queer spaces and communities.

On Tuesday, 4 August, 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate which had been unsafely stored at Beirut’s port for six years detonated, resulting in a devastating explosion leaving at least 200 people dead and thousands injured, according to the BBC.

After the colossal blast, one of the worst urban explosions since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, hundreds of people remain missing and much of the city has been reduced to rubble.

The disaster also sparked anti-government protests, as Beirut residents took to the streets to criticise the official response in the aftermath of the explosion.

Daniel Nasr, a queer Lebanese expat and organiser of the fundraising effort Rebuilding Beirut with Pride, told PinkNews that the blast created further devastation in a country already “on the brink of collapse”.

I’ve just never seen so many people that I know in hospital, covered in blood.

He said: “Living abroad, living in the diaspora, I already felt a bit distant to kind of the struggles of Lebanon.

“I mean, even before the before the explosion, this is a country on the brink of collapse, in terms of the economic collapse, to the political instability, to COVID-19, to the revolution.

“Everyone in the country just felt so disheartened and down and kind of collectively depressed. Those in the diaspora felt that same level of helplessness.

“When I saw the explosion and what happened, I mean, I really just couldn’t stop my tears, I broke down.

“My immediate thought was my family, my immediate thought was my friends. My immediate thought was the defeat for the future, for what’s to come. We thought the worst, we thought it was going to be a war.”

LGBT+ Beirut neighbourhood Mar Mikhael

Damaged buildings are pictured in Beirut’s neighbourhood of Mar Mikhael on August 7, 2020, three days after a massive explosion in the Lebanese capital’s port left scores of people dead or wounded and caused extensive damage. (PATRICK BAZ/AFP via Getty)

As Nasr began trying to process the disaster with his friends, they realised that action would be the best way to cope.

He continued: “It was really emotional for everyone seeing it from afar and then not feeling able to do anything. That kind of devastation was just getting too much.

“I was having the same conversations with my friends, and we felt that we needed to do something with it. So we came together as a group of Lebanese expats, as well as from the queer community in London that aren’t Lebanese, allies and friends. We came together to see what we could do.”

The result of their collective effort will be Rebuilding Beirut with Pride, an evening of art, live performances and drag, showcasing Arab and queer talent and demonstrating their love for Beirut, its people and its reconstruction.

The event will take place on 22 August at the Bell Pub in Whitechapel, London, and will also be streamed live online.

While the explosion was catastrophic for everyone in Beirut, the LGBT+ community has been suffering a unique impact.

The culture and the community we’ve built for so long, we’ve just seen in go out from under us. Those are the spaces we’ve built.

Two of the city’s queer hubs, Mar Mikhael and Gemmayze, were only 500 metres away from the centre of the blast, leaving them completely destroyed and uninhabitable.

Nasr said: “Most of our spaces are gone. Many of my friends who are performers who live in housing around there, it’s all been destroyed.”

“The LGBT+ community has been one of the hardest hit,” he continued, “specifically trans women in our community.”

The culture and the community we’ve built for so long, we’ve just seen in go out from under us. Those are the spaces we’ve built. Those are the houses, the people that have moved into that community.

“I’ve just never seen so many people that I know in hospital, covered in blood, everybody’s damaged, everybody’s belongings have been completely destroyed.”

LGBT+ Beirut neighbourhood Gemayzeh

An aerial view shows damaged buildings in Beirut’s neighbourhood of Gemayzeh, days after a huge chemical explosion hit the nearby port, devastating large parts of the Lebanese capital. (AFP via Getty)

Organisers will split funds from Rebuilding Beirut with Pride between the Lebanese Red CrossBeit El Baraka, which provides food banks for victims of the disaster, Basmeh & Zeitooneh, which provides relief for those who have been made homeless, and Embrace Lebanon, which offers mental health support.

The queer community has a really, really proud history of solidarity, international, local and national solidarity.

On top of these four charities, a portion of the funds will go to LGBT-specific causes, including the Lebanese Transgender Relief Fund. Organisers are also in conversation with LGBT+ people on the ground in Beirut, identifying other ways to directly support the community.

Nasr said the response so far has been overwhelming, with the event’s GoFundMe page raising almost £8,000 in just two days.

He said: “The key thing is that the queer community has a really, really proud history of solidarity – international, local and national solidarity. I think this is no different.

“So, to a certain extent, I almost knew that I could rely on the LGBT+ community to have our backs.

“On the other [hand], I’ve been really just taken aback by kind of the levels of support.

“For example, an artist in Texas got in touch and pledged to donate £3,200 worth of prints. This is somebody who I have no connection to, they’re not Lebanese, it was just completely random.

“I think that these are the types of things that are really just kind of giving me hope again.”

All Lebanese are hurting and queer Lebanese communities are hurting.

He added that a “call to action” was still necessary, and addressed those within the LGBT+ community and beyond who have not yet donated or contributed to the relief effort in Beirut.

“The Lebanese are hurting,” Nasr said. “All Lebanese are hurting and queer Lebanese communities are hurting.

“My call to action is to get involved by donating, sharing the [GoFundMe] page with any people who may want to, and get in touch with us if you want to get involved in the performance side of things and the art auction happened in a couple weeks.”